The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held its 19th banquet on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at the Marriott in Crystal City, in Arlington, Virginia. The fundraising goal was $400,000. Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR National Communications Director said that he was “pleased with the support shown at the banquet.” About 900 supporters filled the banquet hall.
The Dinner registration started at 5:30. The room assigned for the prayer came out short as it was very small for this big crowd and someone said “this is a good problem to have”. People waited patiently for the first batch to finish their Maghrib prayers and then a second prayer was held.
The function started with Quranic recitation by Imam Ahmad Azzari' of the Prince George's Muslim Association. The Master of Ceremonies was CAIR Staff Attorney, Gadeir Abbas. CAIR’s Rosa Parks Civil Liberties Scholarship and the Sharifa Alkhateeb Community Service Scholarship were presented respectively to Yasmine Arrington and Aabid Mohiuddin. Linda Sarsour was awarded the American Muslim of the Year while Make Space won the 2013 Community Organization of the Year. Tayyibah Taylor was awarded the 2013 Excellence in Media and Chaplain Tarif Shraim the 2013 Community Service Award. ISNA’s Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed won the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award. All the happy recipients accepted their awards by thanking CAIR with few words of appreciation.
Nihad Awad, CAIR National Executive Director, talked about “What It Takes to Protect our Faith” by reminding the gathering of the responsibilities of Muslims living in the US.
The keynote speaker, South Africa's Ambassador to the United States Ebrahim Rasool, reminded the gathering of the beautiful example Muslims have in the beloved Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) who was called and known by his countrymen before the advent of his prophethood, as “Al Amine” (the trustworthy). When his wife Aisha was asked about him after he departed from this world, she said his character was the Qur'an. Ambassador Rasool stressed that before people would be willing to listen to your message, or to take you as their fellow countrymen, they must trust you as the Quraysh trusted the Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam before and after his prophethood.
Rasool also condemned sectarianism, and stressed the need for Muslims to focus on the common core values of Islam like trustworthiness, compassion, and responsibility. He talked at length about his country South Africa where 300 years ago, his people were taken as slaves from South East Asia while Africans were being brought in the Americas as slaves. His country overcame the most horrendous calamity of the century, apartheid, and he reminded the gathering of the beautiful example of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison and came out to become the first black president of his country. “If it could be done over there, it could be done anywhere”, he said. He also talked about Steve Biko who was the most famous one known by all to be killed in prison but “an Imam was also killed in that prison and another [Muslim] prisoner was thrown from the 10th floor to his death”, he told the audience. He said courage is what it takes to be peaceful in a violent world.
The Ambassador received a standing ovation for his remarks. Imam Siraj Wahaj who conducted the fundraising said one of the main reasons he came to the CAIR banquet this year was to listen to Ambassador Rasool.
Keynote speaker Glenn Greenwald -- the civil rights attorney and activist who broke the Edward Snowden / NSA story -- could not make it to the function due to his fear of being arrested by the United States. He sent a video where he expressed his admiration for the work CAIR is doing and asked the gathering to continue to support CAIR as “whatever is done to a minority doesn’t just stop there, it will eventually spread to the other members of society”.